Monthly Archives: May 2012

Announcing an FH, Anti-Bush-Family-themed Super-PAC…

to go toe-to-malevolent-cloven-hooved-toe with (Jeb’s son) George P. Bush’s set of (two) super(evil)-PACs.  I’m not sure why Latino voters would align with the youngest Bush, other than the fact that he’s latino — because, you know, his dad loves courting latinos so much that he procreated with a Latina out of political aspirations.  Don’t think so?  Nay FH, you say — that’s just too far…  See the following Google results string:

search

You’re right, you’re right … I can’t say (or write) unequivocally that Jeb Bush hooked up with a Spanish-speaking lady in a post-Machiavellian ultra-political-realist attempt to WIN BACK THE LATINO VOTE that propelled his idiot bro’ to the presidency… but I just did.

So… how do we start that Super-PAC?  Was it here that I read the directions or here?  You guys let me know if you’re in, ok…

In my best (mis[under]{is this FOIL?})estimation, Bush(es) collecting Latina/o votes is on par with the political-act-par-excellence of Obama backing Gays-Marrying-Gays-at-this-term-in-the-reelction-cycle (marriage equality makes sense but I can’t stand such blatant political tactics, no matter the outcome).  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Dandruff.

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I got a job…

started today.  /euphoria.  thank the universe I’m a human being again, albeit a non-factoring one considering I don’t own stock in anything. this phenomenon may impact my posting abilities for a time.

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GRE Panic

I don’t usually post about personal stuff but I just took the GRE today and wanted to share.  As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been out of work for 6 weeks — just prior to getting let go I signed up for the test.  I had thought I’d get ample time to study but I really wasn’t able to motivate myself for whatever reason.  Today was test day and I certainly wasn’t expecting much.

Without disclosing too much, I went through the ETS Prometrics security screening process and couldn’t help but feel as though I was taking the test in that area just beyond the airport security line where you fumble around with all your stuff and slip your shoes back on just before you head to the terminal.  I spent four or so hours on the test until, finally — just before I fell asleep at my computer workstation, I had completed all six sections.

As I clicked through the completion menu on the computer screen I ultimately reached the the SCORES page.  Here was the moment I had been waiting for and, if I was really lucky, I wouldn’t have to retake.

My heart sank to my feet as, exhausted, I watched the page finally load and my scores came in to view.  Why the F@#% was the first number for both portions of the test — quantitative and qualitative — a 1   ?!?!?!?!?!?!  GRE scores range from 200 – 800 — it should have been IMPOSSIBLE TO SCORE IN THE 100S.  OMG AKA WTF!

I had rid myself of my iPhone a few weeks ago so there was no way to see what the hell had gone wrong and I was taking public transit home from downtown so I had a 40 minute commute to boil over.  Panic attacks, identity crises, legitimate fears for my health and mental wellbeing … and then I got home and found out ETS had completely revamped the scoring system as of August of 2011.

What a moron.  I surely deserve to go to grad school, no?

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Arthur Miller, Barton Fink

Lee Siegel has a piece up this morning in the International Herald Times titled Death of a Salesman’s Dreams.  Being a salesman of sorts and having recently seen Arthur Miller’s The Price, I was drawn in.

Siegel seems to feel the contemporary rendition of the Arthur Miller play rings hollow because the middle class dream — a dream described by Miller himself as a “pseudo life that thought to touch the clouds by standing on top of a refrigerator, waving a paid-up mortgage at the moon, victorious at last,” — has no place in a society where top marginal tax rates have dropped from 82% to 30% or less, depending upon your capital gains receipts.  He finds irony in the fact that only the affluent can afford tickets (starting at $111) to see Philip Seymour Hoffman portray Willy Loman, a salt-of-the-earth type who struggles to make good financially while retaining his humanity.

What Siegel misses is that Miller’s target audience was never real life Willy Lomans — not in 1949 and not now.  Siegel suggests that “elite intellectuals like Mr. Miller himself unwittingly created an atmosphere hostile to such middle-class attitudes”.  If Mr. Siegel knew better, and I think he does, he’d have dropped the term “unwittingly”.

Siegel’s thinking — that a new affluent class has adopted the play as a means to feelings of superiority — is just plain wrong-headed.  Though he hints at it, Siegel never quite admits that Miller meant “Death of a Salesman” , not as a mirror for the middle-class to behold their failings, but as a critique of the materialism of the capitalist middle class … for the self-congratulation of the elite.  The play affirms the superiority of the minority, a claim that always informed Miller’s thought.  Anti-democratic sentiments are ubiquitous throughout his work — his critique of the feeblemindedness of the masses in the face of demagoguery in The Crucible, his scathing review of the amoral nature of the social-climbing professional class in The Price, his adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and so on.

 “You see, the point is that the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”

“The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools?”

“What sort of truths are they that the majority usually
supports? They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are
beginning to break up. And if a truth is as old as that, it is also in
a fair way to become a lie, gentlemen.”

Quotes from Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People

Would a man who’d aligned himself with the masses or gave much mind to their reform set out to adapt a play like Ibsen’s?  Was marrying starlet-of-the-century Marilyn Monroe a decidedly working-class act on Miller’s part?  Would a mass-minded-populist glorify the character Victor Franz (The Price) — a simple working-class flat-foot stiff who firmly knew his place — while vilifying his brother Walter for his unchecked ambitions and his awkward social-climb in to the professional class?  Siegel’s latest piece is just another contribution to the myth of Arthur Miller, American Populist, Leftist, Communist — revealer of the flawed-but-humane popular hero.

Each time I watch Barton Fink, I’m reminded of Arthur Miller and his set — literary opportunists ready to make a genre on the backs of popular struggles they’ll never know themselves:

BARTON
Well, I don’t mean to get up on my high horse, but why
shouldn’t we look at ourselves up there? Who cares
about the Fifth Earl of Bastrop and Lady Higginbottom
and – and – and who killed Nigel Grinch-Gibbons?

CHARLIE
I can feel my butt getting sore already.

BARTON
Exactly, Charlie! You understand what I’m saying – a lot
more than some of these literary types. Because you’re a
real man!1

CHARLIE
And I could tell you some stories –

BARTON
Sure you could! And yet many writers do everything in
their power to insulate themselves from the common man –
from where they live, from where they trade, from where
they fight and love and converse and – and – and
. . . so naturally their work suffers, and regresses into
empty formalism and – well, I’m spouting off again, but to
put it in your language, the theater becomes as phony as a
three-dollar bill.

CHARLIE
Yeah, I guess that’s tragedy right there.

BARTON
Frequently played, seldom remarked.

Charlie laughs.

CHARLIE
Whatever that means.

Barton smile[s] with him.

As an aside, I think Siegel also misses the mark by failing to identify that today’s Willy Lomans aren’t sales shills who’re out on the road selling widgets for the man — they’re creative men and women with a powerful longing to claw back some of their human agency.  Today’s Willy’s aren’t fighting to retain humanity within the inhumane business-sphere — they’ve already conceded the impossibility of that act.  This generation of middle-class-workers wants to get in and get out of the corporate environment — many of them have fixed their gaze on idyllic return-to-the-land schemes, DIY business start-ups, or a plethora of other means of “going it alone” to create a modest, humane life from outside the parvenue of the capitalist class.

*As a caveat, I enjoy Siegel’s writing and think his unrelated thoughts on the dangers of the internet are interesting, too.  In this case, I was simply struck with liberality of his most recent piece.  I think he’s a better writer than he showed today so I’m not just “hurling the Sprezzatura stuff” here.

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Hobbes & Caged Lions: A Video Metaphor for Occupy

[T]he underlying terror of death is what drives most of the human endeavor. — Moore & Williamson

Knowing that, take a look at THIS VIDEO of a family of tourists as they thoroughly enjoy themselves while a lion tries its best to eat their baby (courtesy of WhoIsIoz, one of my favorites).  At least one of them wonders aloud whether laughing at the specter of death was “right”.  Find yourself thinking there was something inherently problematic with a family caterwauling like jackals in the face of death?  I certainly did.

If we reach back to political theorist and all-around curmudgeon Thomas Hobbes and accept his work as fact (ugh), fear of death was the organizing principle that had us leave the state of nature to form civil society.  It’s important to note that Hobbes’ lifetime and career were contemporaneous with the English Civil War (1642-1651) and much of his work was informed by the violence, death, and destruction endemic to those times.

Fear, according to Hobbes, suffuses and shapes human life. It pervades the state of nature, of whose many miseries the “worst of all [is] continual fear,and the danger of violent death.” ‘It is both the sole origin of civil society (“the original of all great and lasting societies consisted not in the mutual goodwill men had towards each other, but in the mutual fear they had of each other”) and the only reliable means of its preservation (“during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, as is of everyman, against everyman.”) At once the principal cause of  war and the principal means to peace, fear is the basis both of man’s most urgent plight and of his only possible escape.  

Hobbesian Fear, Jan H. Blits, Political Theory , Vol. 17, No. 3 (Aug., 1989), pp. 417-431
Pessimistic Hobbes saw that fear has uses — it wasn’t the primary driver of humanity even if it was the ultimate organizing factor.  For Hobbes, insatiable thirst for power is the primary human characteristic and self-knowledge of that power-hunger is the root of civilizing fear and paranoia.
So what happens when a small sect of humanity is altogether freed from fear?  When an elite few understands all the levers of power are pulled in the direction that benefits them most?  Their avid power-pursuit goes unchecked and those individuals would become blatant, belligerent, and unapologetic in their pursuit of self-interest, no?  If you have a moment, watch that video again and then watch this: Wall St. Traders Laugh at Occupy Arrests    See any similarities?
*I’m in no way advocating violence here.  These are simple comments about what monetizing politics a la Citizens United could do to the status quo and the hyper-inequality we’ve seen perpetuated in this country since the 70s.
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First Cup of Coffee: Mitten’s Former Bain Partner Says Wealth Concentration at Top Ought to Be Twice as Extreme

ImageIn his new book (which I won’t link to here) 51-year-old .01%er Ed Conard, retired, makes a case for greater economic inequality.  Yeah — he wants the top 10% to control more than 2/3 of America’s net worth.  Conard argues increased wealth concentration at the top is necessary to drive nonproductive “art history majors” (a term he uses to describe lawyers and pretty much anyone he sees as adverse to competition and risk) from the sidelines. Ed hopes that, once we’ve got these wallflowers moving, they’ll get involved with socioeconomically productive endeavors, such as high-leverage (debt-laden) buyouts of companies followed by massive cost-cutting layoffs so that the businesses can be flipped like so many foreclosed properties.

“It’s not like the current payoff is motivating everybody to take risks,” he said. “We need twice as many people. When I look around, I see a world of unrealized opportunities for improvements, an abundance of talented people able to take the risks necessary to make improvements but a shortage of people and investors willing to take those risks. That doesn’t indicate to me that risk takers, as a whole, are overpaid. Quite the opposite.” The wealth concentrated at the top should be twice as large, he said. That way, the art-history majors would feel compelled to try to join them.  Adam Davidson — NY Times

Let’s be honest here — private equity firms get cash-rich institutions (e.g., teachers’ pension funds) and ultra-rich individuals to front the capital to purchase an underperforming venture.  This limited-partnership legal entity has investors essentially betting on the firm’s management strategy to produce a turnaround or notable growth.  The PE firm comes in and “cuts the fat” (often on the backs of the labor force), executing an extreme bottom-line-focused strategy, and each of its management decisions is informed by the desire to exit the investment.  The format is both exclusive — you’d typically need upwards of $1M to invest — and short-term focused.  There’s zero incentive to think of healthy long-term growth for the asset, as the only goal is to reach IPO or acquisition.

At its best, Conard’s thought grants us a fairly honest portrayal of the inner machinations of his former partner’s take on distributive justice.  It’s a scary sight.  The fact that this set of folks is so eager to advocate for greater risk just four years after risk nearly destroyed our economy — and after we’ve seen only mixed recovery — tells me that the risk-takers responsible for the economic crisis saw little downside (punishment) to their behavior.  Conard, Romney, and their ilk are the outcome of moral hazard.

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First Cup of Coffee: May Day (Bealtine)

 Busy this morning but I wanted to get this up … May Day is a big one, as far as I’m concerned.  As Occupy Chicago’s #M1GS* takes place in the Chicago Loop, today’s (very late) First Cup of Coffee is one part history and another part creepy.

In it’s pre-modern form, May Day finds its origins in the Druidic paleo-Irish Bealtine holy day.  On this solemn day – the Day of Baal’s Fire, as it was known – the anxieties of the shepherds ran high.  It was a supernatural date nestled within the superstitious pagan calendar – a day defined by witchcraft, harms befalling cattle and kin, and bad luck of all flavors.  After waking to the augural sound of a helicopter hovering over my Chicago apartment at 7AM, I’d guess the ominous feeling I have this morning is historically apt.  Anecdotally replace witches and hobgoblins with complex financial derivatives and Rahm’s armor-clad Chicago PD and let the somber Bealtine observations begin.

*I missed the event due to a job interview.

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